Now, we've played our fair share of 'anti-hero' stories (Max Payne, GTA, Peggle), but none have touched on the 'anti' part quite so comfortably as Prototype. The main character, Alex Mercer, is a free-running, backstory-hunting, car-tossing, shape-shifting monster and he'll happily eviscerate a passer-by to scoop up DNA. Got all that?
As the title suggests, Mercer is a prototype, a weapon with extraordinary powers. He's also, shock horror, suffering from amnesia and coming to terms with his remarkable abilities. Manhattan is the bustling backdrop to all this, and this setting grants Alex's talents free rein in free-roaming, all-access environments.
While he's wandering the streets, there's a virus running through the locals, the military are after him and dog-like demon figures called the Infected, with powers similar to his, are also in pursuit.
Alex's mutant abilities are by turns exhilarating and grisly. In his normal state he can run straight up walls and leap over moving cars, which saves on cab fares and plays into Manhattan's greatest strength: the 3D space. Running up and over buildings is good for both scoping out plans of attack and escape.
But we mentioned eviscerating earlier, and simple jumping powers aren't likely to result in that. Alex's shapeshifting powers have multiple uses. His body is a weapon and can be toughened to resist any attacks.
His hands can elongate into deadly pointed spears that he can fire into the ground so they sprout underneath an enemy's feet, like a hideous tree. And he can eat people, splitting their body apart in a gory scene that looks like worms having an orgy in blood, and absorbing the target's DNA. He can then take on his victim's appearance, which can be useful if you plan on pretending to be an Army General to order an airstrike.
Prototype's set-pieces are nicely chaotic. Putting Alex in the middle of Times Square and having a three-way battle between the military, the Infected and Alex sets off a huge number of variables - tanks vs mutants vs mutated superhuman.
The result is crowds streaming through the streets, and Alex hopping from car bonnets to rooftops, denting cars and slicing humans. With the Infected closing in, a swivel of the camera shows off cars being brushed out of the way as the mutants follow, and military choppers joining in. They'll wish they hadn't.
There's a streak of black humour running though Prototype: you can take over any of the vehicles the army send after you, and trying it with a tank sees Alex drop out of sight through the top hatch, then there's a brief pause followed by a fountain of blood spurting out. He can even attempt to flying-kick passing helicopters.
Why the military are after Alex isn't clear. Sure, there's the fact that he's a rampaging, deranged hoodie-wearing killer, but the deeper meaning is being kept close to developers Radical Entertainment's chest for now.
What's clear is that Alex hates the armed forces. On the full mission we were privy to, he snuck into a military base after sucking the DNA out of a General. Once inside, he called in a strike and destroyed the HQ. One of the ideas behind the game is that you have a few options when you undertake any mission. In this case, Alex could just have easily burned through bodies on his way to the goal.
We're excited at Prototype's promise. The city will be fully open to explore from the beginning, and the powerful main character is a joy to play. And anything that rewards explosions with more explosions is just fine by us.